BROAD STAGE — The Santa Monica Daily Press and Santa Monica College hosted the annual candidate forum, “Squirm Night” Monday, Oct. 13 at the Broad Stage. About 200 to 250 people attended throughout the evening sponsored by, which saw candidates addressing controversial issues in the city, with the occasional rare direct answer.

SMMUSD Board of Education

Four available seats

Incumbents Laurie Lieberman, Ralph Mechur, Oscar de la Torre

Challengers Patty Finer, Craig Foster, Dhun May and Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein

The candidates began by addressing recent concerns about environmental safety, with everyone agreeing the PCB levels should be tested and hazardous toxins removed.

Tahvildaran-Jesswein, a cancer survivor in his fourth year of remission, said waiting for a bond measure in 2016 is “not OK” and the issue needed to be resolved quickly.

Each person was asked a specific question about other district issues, such as the removal of the Santa Monica High School baseball coach, which Mechur answered by saying principals make the decision on who will coach. De la Torre responded to a question about the physical confrontation of teacher Mark Black and a student in April by saying self-defense was appropriate.

“The teacher probably handled the circumstances in the best way possible,” he said. “There need to be strong relationships, with a class size of 35, 40 students it’s hard to develop good relationships.”

Lieberman was later tossed a question about class sizes being too large, and stated the district tries to make sure if, for instance, a teacher has five classes per day, the amount of students they see averages out to 35 per class, even though “here and there it might be higher,” she said.

Foster was intent on focusing on every child’s “unique spark,” a phrase he used multiple times, and as the only Malibu resident running, said he hoped to improve communications between Malibu and Santa Monica.

For the other challengers, Tahvildaran-Jesswein named closing the achievement gap as his biggest concern, while Finer wanted to know why one school did not pass accreditation. May wanted board members to speak up more about finance issues.

“You made me squirm, I’m the last one speaking,” Tahvildaran-Jesswein said to close out the session.

Santa Monica College Board of Trustees

Four available seats

Incumbents Louise Jeffe, Nancy Greenstein, Barry A. Snell and Andrew Walzer

Challengers Dennis C.W. Frisch and Maria Loya

The crowd filled with Santa Monica College students audibly groaned when Jeffe said she supports only the other current incumbents and “the board does not need to be disrupted,” she said.

The two challengers Loya and Frisch ran on the idea of prioritized access for local students and against the corporatization of the college, respectively.

When asked how she could champion minority and low-income students from other areas of Los Angeles while wanting to give preferential enrollment to locals, Loya replied, “There are low-income, minority students in Santa Monica … we need to do a better job ensuring access to these students,” she said. Jeffe interjected by saying it would be illegal to do so.

The question of student preparedness seemed to resonate with most every candidate, though there was a fissure as to whether the 2012 proposed two-tier tuition system was a good idea.

“That’s something that is totally at odds with the mission of community colleges,” Frisch said.

“For us, when we talk about open access, are we talking about actual access?” Jeffe said. “We made an effort to try to do something.”

Snell directly questioned Frisch on previous comments on affirmative action, to which Frisch pointed out his involvement with diverse groups on campus such as the LGBT organization and Hillel.

Jeffe and Walzer finished up by asking each other about their own experience on the board thus far.

Santa Monica City Council

Three available seats

Incumbents Pam O’Connor and Kevin McKeown

Challengers Whitney Scott Bain, Nick Boles, Phil Brock, Michael Feinstein, Frank Gruber, Sue Himmelrich, Jennifer Kennedy, Richard McKinnon

Did not meet Santa Monica Daily Press qualifications for participation: Terence Later, John Mann, Zoe Muntaner, Jerry Rubin

Kicking off with a question about homelessness, incumbents O’Connor and McKeown championed the housing-first model, while Kennedy suggested services going to people before five years, Bain wanted a push for more jobs and education, Gruber argued the 72-hour civil hold law could be used to help get some people services, and Himmelrich wanted to focus more on people on the verge of homelessness.

A consistent narrative throughout the evening was the question of development.

When questioned if he would support the proposed 148-foot design at 4th/5th/Arizona Avenue, McKeown did not definitively say yes or no, because he would have to wait and hear public testimony about the design.

“People should decide,” he said.

Brock said he wasn’t opposed to all development.

“I’m not against development, nobody can be against change, but we have to limit that change to allow Santa Monica to be a city we want to live in,” he said. “I’m for smart, sustainable development into the 21st and 22nd centuries.”

The audience audibly booed, and there was even a hiss or two, after Gruber talked about how he has the support of the local hotel workers union.

‘It’s reasonable to build hotels in a city that has always been a tourist Mecca,” he said. “If the designs are good and the impacts are reasonable … but I would not support hotels just because union workers would be hired.”

Current Mayor O’Connor, who has served on city council since 1994, said she could not remember the last time she voted against a development agreement.

“I don’t keep track that way, no seriously, I don’t,” she said.

O’Connor also said she still had to check to see if there were any donations she accepted from developers that might have been illegal.

Gruber questioned McKeown on his stance on bus shelter design, leaning more “whimsical” than practical.

“Frank, years before that I voted you off planning commission,” McKeown answered jokingly. McKeown said he is more disappointed the bus stops do not have real-time bus arrivals than what color the seats are.

Feinstein asked Bain, in regards to if the airport were shut down and the land used for a park, “What would be so bad about having open space?”

“Good luck getting it,” Bain said. Bain later mentioned building a permanent ice rink for the town, too.

Boles focused on bridging the generation gap, wanting to serve the future of Santa Monica, and McKinnon talked about finding a balance between pedestrians and providing parking.

“We have to promote alterative ways of transport to get to that train [the new Expo line],” he said. “Buses, bikes, methods to ensure people are going to be able to use that train.”

Affordable housing topped many closing statements for candidates, and at the conclusion of the discussion, Boles brought up investing in the future.

“We are going through a crisis with our high cost of living,” he said. “It needs to change, we need to raise families here, plant roots here, we just need space to work together. Open the doors and let us work together.”

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